As the CEO of Intigral, Hamoud Al Rumayan is part of the vanguard that has been quietly transforming the way media and entertainment are being consumed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over the recent past.
While major economic, cultural and social changes are sweeping the Kingdom, Intigral – a subsidiary of STC, the region’s biggest telco – has been slowly but steadily capturing the country’s regional broadcast & OTT market through its digital platforms Jawwy TV and Dawri Plus.
Conceived as a digital content company, Intigral was established in 2009 as a joint venture between Saudi Telecom Company (STC) and the Malaysian media conglomerate, All Asia Networks (ASTRO). Initially responsible for managing the content operations of Invision, STC’s IPTV service and VAS services for mobile operators across the region, Intigral has transformed into a media aggregator with ambitions to make its JawwyTV the region’s “ultimate OTT entertainment service“.
Demand for local content
In May 2018, Intigral launched Jawwy TV, an OTT platform for the MENA region showcasing different kinds of content. The past year has been filled with insights, Al Rumayan reflects – mostly about the massive demand for culturally appropriate Arabic content in the GCC.
Al Rumayan cites the example of Shabab el Bomb (“The Bomb Guys”) – a popular youth comedy that Jawwy TV acquired in 2018 as part of their launch offerings. It was previously being broadcast on Rotana TV during the prime time slot (8pm to 9pm), which coincided with the time “when the remote control goes to grown-ups” in Saudi households. Young people, the show’s intended audience, ended up watching the episodes once they were released on Youtube after the satellite broadcast, giving the societal comedy an audience of millions on the video-sharing website.
“We decided to introduce Shabab el Bomb on Jawwy TV during Ramadan last year. We thought we had done well in designing a portal to handle 40,000 concurrent registrations. On the first day of Ramadan our system collapsed as there were 770,000 trial registrations. A tremendous response. This is when we understood the magnitude of the demand for local content,” al Rumayan reminisces.
Jawwy TV bought the next four seasons of Shabab el Bomb, broadcasting it all year long. “We are now the only digital source for anybody who wants to watch the series. It was one of the big learnings and major successes from last year.”
“Last year was all about understanding what our customers want. I cannot compare our service to Netflix, for example, as the market segment they are targeting is totally different,” says the CEO. “We are looking to cater for everybody in Saudi – this is where the learning experience has been tremendous; we have understood our customers behavior and their needs.”
Al Rumayan hopes that when it comes to delivering local content to GCC audiences, Intigral will have first mover advantage. He calls it “the greatest learning of the past year”.
“We identified a huge demand for local content, and a huge shortage. Most local content, if it exists for Saudi and the rest of the GCC, only appears during Ramadan. If I need to sell to my customer base, I need to cater for them all year long rather than during just one month.”
The dearth of Arabic content, especially for the youth, motivated Intigral’s move into content production this year. “From being a content aggregator, we penetrated the production line and this season we have five series and one film,” Al Rumayan says. “They are all dedicated to the GCC’s Arabic audience. We are now in the process of introducing all our content and we are closely monitoring audience reactions to understand how it is being received.”
Bid for Premiership
In another significant development for Intigral, its parent company STC signed a 10-year contract worth SAR 660 million ($1.8 billion) for TV and digital broadcasting and marketing sponsorships with the General Sports Authority (GSA) and Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) in 2018. The contract – the biggest in the history of Saudi sport sponsorships – awarded STC the broadcast rights for Saudi Professional League (SPL), matches Cups Competitions, and SAFF-organised Saudi National Team matches.
The matches were broadcast through Dawry Plus, Intigral’s award-winning interactive app developed for football and sports fans in the Kingdom, enabling them to watch SPL games in real time across devices. The app garners 1.1 million active users per month and 410, 000+ active users every day.
“Dawry Plus is a prime product with more than three million subscribers,” al Rumayan comments. “Last season after acquiring rights for SPL, we launched it as encrypted content. Unfortunately, on the day of launch, the Saudi government decreed that the content could not be encrypted. We are now re-negotiating the terms and conditions with GSA, and aim to resolve this.
“As a company, we believe sports content is important as we are catering for a youthful audience - more than 70 percent of our users are below 30 and sports is one of their favourite forms of entertainment.”
Al Rumayan’s ambitions for Dawry Plus have expanded beyond SPL to international sports. “Recently, the Asian Federation announced that the [broadcast] rights that used to be controlled in the MENA region and some other jurisdiction by BEin are now available. We are going to try and grab those too. In the coming months, we will be focused on exploring other leagues, including the Premier League, La Liga and Italian League. Also, I have to add that Dawri Plus isn't going to focus only on football. We are also catering for other sports.”
The changing future
Along with Etisalat, STC was among the first companies in the world to announce the availability of 5G services earlier this year. Indoor 5G @3.5GHz for the GCC and MENA has recently been trialled by STC and Huawei, the second such test in the world. For the data hungry GCC, 5G represents a faster, better user experience, from 4K/8K video streaming to e-sports.
“We see 5G as an excellent opportunity to reach out to customers. There is a reliable Internet connectivity and extremely high speed, which is going to encourage people to utilise the digital platform more often. I believe this is going to drive good traffic to digital media and have a positive impact on Intigral's future.”
Al Rumayan describes Intigral as a young company, built by young people, catering to young people. This CEO has his finger firmly on the pulse of his target audience, thanks to an honest “consultant”.
“My 16-year-old son Khalid is the one I usually consult when my team comes up with something new. I want the opinion of my target audience and I know he will challenge everything I am saying. I can rely on him to give me a true opinion of how young people are perceiving our programming.”
Within Intigral, Al Rumayan wants to increase the number of women employees in line with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 that aims to create 450,000 jobs for women. “As of now, women make up about 30% of the total workforce in our office in Riyadh - all of them are Saudi. The average age of staff in our company is 32. I am the oldest guy around,” he laughs. “I am trying to build a youthful environment filled with creative people.
“Almost 50% of the Saudi population is female. Companies need to open up and accommodate women and build their future, in line with Vision 2030. This is exactly what we are doing at STC and at Intigral. We are aiming to give Saudi women the opportunities they deserve, at least in my domain. We believe they are a major factor of our success.”
At just over 25 million people, Saudi Arabia is the GCC’s biggest country with one of the Arab world’s highest internet penetration rates. Intigral’s focus is firmly on increasing its market share in the Kingdom.
North Africa is on the horizon, but not in the immediate future. “We need to cater for individual markets and customers’ needs,” al Rumayan comments. Explaining the fallacy of treating the MENA region as a monolithic bloc, Al Rumayan says, “In Morocco, we can’t broadcast the same content as we do in Saudi as it’s a different culture and variant of Arabic. English is a second language in Saudi, but in Morocco it’s French. We can create similar content for Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Tunisia, whereas Egyptian content may be more acceptable to Sudan. While we do broadcast Egyptian content to all, we also need to focus on localisation.”
Intigral’s business model is based on working with the entire M&E ecosystem: broadcasters, telcos, content producers and media rights owners – so even a collaboration with streaming giants such as Netflix isn’t off the cards. “It’s something I see on the horizon. Netflix has already acquired four series, which may not be exclusive, but we are definitely going to see many more international players in the region. This is a positive development for audiences as it will work to improve quality. It may also serve to increase the cost of content.”
“We are content aggregators and open to the idea of selling our content. This season we are producing six series, which can cater to other streaming services, satellite broadcasters or even digital platforms in the future. Second, we are focusing on live streaming, which is not available on other applications, Within the live applications we have encrypted and free to air channels, which has given us a unique position.”
When it comes to Arabic content Intigral has first mover advantage over the much larger streaming giants that have neglected the region. “What if we can offer you all your cable and streaming content in one platform?” Al Rumayan asks.-“It gives you [the customer] increased flexibility, a sort of a la carte menu of entertainment to be consumed wherever you wish, whenever you wish. We aim to have this box operational by the second half of next year.”
“Our ambition is to be one of the largest content aggregators in the market, we aim to reach 5 million users. The challenges before us will be of acquiring the content, providing service, and meeting customer expectations. So far, alhamdulillah, we have done well.”